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The US’ reluctance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions not only impacts Americans, but also people around the world.
The US’ reluctance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions not only impacts Americans, but also people around the world.

Making an Economic Case for Climate Action

If fossil fuels continue to be used, both economic losses and health costs are estimated to reach at least $360 billion annually

Making an Economic Case for Climate Action

Having faced a year of record temperatures and devastating hurricanes, the United States stands more to lose if it doesn’t take steps to reduce the risk and impact of climate change, according to a new report.
Launched by the Universal Ecological Fund, it details the costs of the US’ climate inaction to the national economy and public health and urges for policies to move the country towards a sustainable future, IPS reported.
 “It’s not about ideology, it’s about good business sense,” the former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the report’s co-author James McCarthy told IPS.
“Many people say that they will not have the discussion because they are not convinced of the science—well then, let’s just look at the economics, let’s look at what it is costing to not have that discussion,” he continued.

Wake of Destruction
The US is still reeling from an unprecedented month of three hurricanes and 76 wildfires, devastating landscapes from Puerto Rico to Washington.
Hurricane Maria alone left Puerto Rican residents without food, water or electricity. Approximately 44% of the population lacks clean drinking water and just 11 out of 69 hospitals have fuel or power, pushing the island to the brink of a humanitarian crisis.
“This year was nothing like we’ve seen,” said McCarthy.
Though aid delivery is underway, the economic losses from not only Hurricane Maria, but also Hurricanes Harvey and Irma along with the wildfires that swept through the western coast, are estimated to be the costliest weather events in US history.
The report estimates a price-tag of nearly $300 billion in damage, representing 70% of the costs of all 92 weather events in the last decade. Since hurricane season is yet to end, more expensive and damaging storms may still be in the forecast.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information, the number of extreme weather events that incurred at least $1 billion  in economic losses and damages have increased in the last decade by almost two and a half times.
Such losses will only rise as human-induced climate change continues, contributing to dry conditions favorable for more wildfires and warm oceans which lead to more intense storms and higher sea levels.
McCarthy, who is also an Oceanography Professor at Harvard University, told IPS that investments beyond creating hurricane-proof infrastructure are needed to counter such damage. “Infrastructure is important, but everything we can do to reduce the intensity of these events, by slowing the rate of global warming, will make future infrastructure more likely to be effective,” he said.

Unhealthy Dependence
Among the major drivers of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels which the US continues to rely on to produce energy. Coal, oil and natural gas—all of which are fossil fuels— currently account for over 80% of the primary energy generated and used in the North American nation. When such fossil fuels are burned, large amounts of carbon dioxide are released to the atmosphere, contributing to rapid changes in the climate.
Though emissions regulations have reduced air pollution health damages by 35%, or nearly $67 billion per year, burning fossil fuels still produces health costs that average $240 billion every year.
If fossil fuels continue to be used, both economic losses and health costs are estimated to reach at least $360 billion annually, or 55% of US’ growth, over the next decade. And the government won’t be footing the expensive bill, the report notes.
“Time after time, we are going to see the public bearing the costs…it becomes a personal burden for them,” McCarthy told IPS.
He highlighted the importance of the US taking steps to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. “To move people, literally and figuratively, into the future to be more healthy and more sustainable, a less expensive way of doing business just makes sense,” McCarthy said.
Not only will it provide sustainable clean electricity and reduce the rate of global warming, renewable energy also can add to the economy by producing jobs. Clean energy already employs almost 2 million workers, and doubling solar and wind generation can create another 500,000 jobs.
The US’ reluctance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions not only impacts Americans, but also people around the world. Since the process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement will take time, McCarthy expressed hope that the US will change its course.
Governments will be convening in Bonn, Germany for the UN’s Annual Climate Change Conference (COP23) in November to advance the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The focus will be on how to implement issues including emissions reductions, provision of finance, and technology.

 

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